We Need to Stop Numbing

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I feel the need to write this out though no one may ever read it, but the message is far too important to merely swallow out of fear that putting it out there will not be of help to anyone.

A boy from my hometown whom I did not know personally, only by face, passed away a few days ago from a drug overdose. Whether the cause was accidental or intentional is not particularly relevant to me because, either way, our society is in desperate need of preventative measures for death by either means.

Life is so complicated and there are seasons of such darkness that can befall us out of nowhere. We each have different ways of numbing that pain – whether they are learned from our parents, encouraged by society, or just a part of our inborn coping mechanisms. The bottom line is that there are ways to numb our anxiety, discomfort, and hurt that will only lead to more darkness and more pain. Drugs are one of those ways – providing a temporary vanquishing of our demons that ultimately only makes them grow in strength the next time they rear their ugly heads.

There needs to be more dialogue about mental health. There needs to be less shame and secrecy about these topics. Therapy – whether it be through counseling, medication, spirituality, yoga, or any variety of methods – needs to be encouraged.

We have no idea about the struggles of the mind and heart that others experience, and the shame that our culture associates with these issues needs to be stopped. We are all human. We all struggle. We all have unique ways of dealing with these struggles. We must rewire the dominant belief that we are alone and replace it with the truth that we are all connected. We must instill in everyone the idea that life can be painful and it can kick you to the ground, but if you find means of healing (through therapy, religion, exercise, nutrition, etc.) life can also be so incredibly beautiful. We all go through seasons of challenge, strife, and weakness, but these times will make the seasons of triumph, joy, and contentment all the more meaningful if we find the paths of healing that will lead us to them.

Whether this boy took his own life or passed away because of an accidental overdose is not relevant because there is a larger problem going on that is leading people to drugs in the first place. When did we learn that numbing ourselves to our pain was a preferable option to sitting down with our demons and trying to understand them, unearth them, defeat them? When did we learn that we were alone in the world? When did we learn to swallow our feelings of desperation and to feel shame about simply asking for help?

I am not ignorant to the fact that merely saying “someone should just get help” will not bring them automatic health. What I do know is how important it is for those who struggle to get support from whatever means of healing they will benefit most from. Therapy can do this. Spirituality can do this. Exercise and proper nutrition can do this. Everyone has a unique formula that will bring them the healing that they deserve, and a helping hand should be the first step in this journey. These are the steps we should take before the drugs.

I was listening to Marianne Williamson’s Lecture Live-streamed from LA on Monday night and she said something that could not have been more pertinent to this topic.  She talked about how we should not try to ‘take the edge off,’ because the very act of willingly looking at our own demons (though very difficult and not by any means fun) is essential for growth. This is what we should be instilling in people from a young age – that we all have our imperfections and we all have our demons – but these things should not lead to shame, secrecy, or numbing.

We need to learn to face these feelings of inadequacy in order to erase them and then replace them with the realization that we are worthy of love and belonging exactly where we stand, as Brené Brown would say. I literally have that quote written on a piece of looseleaf and stuck to the top of my desk so that when I look up from my laptop it is there, staring me in the face. It is there because I have days where the world feels scarier than it should and I feel more alone than I am and it provides me with the reminder that joy and pain come in waves, that neither feeling will last forever.

So I guess I am writing this because I couldn’t not write it. I couldn’t stop thinking about the larger narrative that needs to be taking place to provide those who are desperately struggling with comfort and safety and just a sliver of hope. This is by no means me saying that if I were in charge of this boy’s story, that it would have had a different ending. I do not know the details of his struggle and I am not here trying to make rash generalizations about the ‘answer’ to this pervasive problem in society. What I do know is this: life can be hard and pain is (unfortunately) inescapable, but there needs to be a collective increase in mindfulness about what it means to deal with these completely human emotions in a healthier way.

There needs to be dialogue about not just how drugs are poisonous to our physical bodies, but how they damage our souls and prevent us from leaning into uncomfortable emotions. No one wants to do this work because it is difficult but unearthing these feelings, sitting down with them and getting to know them, is the only way that we can truly annihilate them. Drugs are not the only culprits here – so is shopping, food, sex, perfectionism – the list goes on. Numbing the lies that we have told ourselves or have been told by others will never give us the opportunity to erase them from our minds and hearts. I am writing this in the hope that someone out there who is in a season of darkness will take a deep breath and know that they are not alone and that asking for help is the wisest and most human thing that they can do.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

Emily Dickinson

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